When we think about Biblical prophecy, we sometimes imagine, God telling the Old Testament prophets what is going to happen in the future, kind of like a fortune teller. This creates problems for us later on. When we think of prophecy in such a simplistic way we end up with false prophets starting new cults and a plethora of other problems. To understand Biblical prophecy we have to first understand some things about God.
Understanding Biblical prophecy has to include understanding some attributes of God that you might not have considered. Let’s start with God’s eternality. You may have heard it mentioned before or just assumed it, but have you thought about the implications? Since God is eternal, He will never not be. There is not an instance where He was not. He will be forever and He has always been. There is no other being that is eternal like this, and that is because of the aseity of God, or His uncreated being. Since He has always been, He has no beginning. He is the uncaused causation of all things. He is the original originator. He is also omniscient, or possess the knowledge of all things. As the Creator He knows everything about everything, and He knows what He knows perfectly and in complete truth. God is omnipresent. He is everywhere you can call a place and places we can’t conceive, and He is in those places in all times and He exceeds them. God transcends our concept of space-time and dimensions. He could be called hyper-dimensional. He is also perfectly wise in His application of His omniscience. We call that omnisapience. When He applies His knowledge He does so with wisdom that is solely His. It is beyond all creatures ability to grasp it. When we consider these attributes apart from one another, they are interesting.
Understanding that there are many more attributes, and they are also perfected in God, we begin to comprehend a more grand and majestic concept of God. We can’t know God as He knows Himself, but we can know Him as He intends for us to know Him. He gave us His word and His Holy Spirit for this end. As fallen, sinful, finite, creatures, under the noetic effect of sin, nevertheless we can know God as He has made provision for us.
Think about each one of those attributes for a moment, and then consider them along with His love. He loves us perfectly, without violating any of His other attributes. He created us in accord with His plan to show us His love, grace, mercy, longsuffering, and lovingkindness. He created us, Himself having perfect knowledge of what that would look like. With Heaven and Hell, sin and temptation, the fall, His incarnation, the gospel, the redeeming of His elect, their glorification, all done in accord with His perfect will, and wisdom.
He is also communicative. He has created us with the ability to communicate. He has communicated some of His attributes to us in our creation. For instance, we are made in the image of God, we are made with senses that allow us to communicate with others, and we have emotions. Remember that our attributes are not perfect. Simply existing as finite creatures contrasted with the infinite Creator displays the disparity of our attributes compared to His.
We know from His word that in the early times of our history, that He walked and talked with Adam in the garden. We know that the Christophanies of the Old Testament record that the preincarnate Christ (eternal Son) appeared to people as the Angel of the Lord, or as the Word of God. Then He used men as prophets. Think of them more as a mouthpiece or speaker hooked to a source, rather than a person who predicts the future. Considering that God knows everything perfectly, and that the past, present, and future are all realities that He has always known in perfect truth, and that He keeps everything working, He doesn’t reveal possible futures to His prophets, but rather tells them of the certainty of the future because it is a reality that He has already known in perfection, according to His sovereign will. For example, think about it this way. You have already watched a movie. You know the entire movie. Not only have you watched this movie, but you are also the writer, director, and producer of the movie. Then, you tell one of the people in the theater about an upcoming scene. You tell him to tell the rest of the audience what is coming up. He is your prophet. This is done with their lack of understanding of your roles in creating the movie. Once they witness the scene your prophet told them about, they think your prophet is a mystic, or a fortune teller who can predict the future. In their ignorance of you and your work they develope a wrong notion of who you are, and what you are about. This is the poor concept of Biblical prophecy many people have, and it displays their ignorance of God, and His attributes.
Realize that my analogy was very lacking, but try to understand what I am getting at. God is not simply a being with a precognition of what the future holds. He is the one who determined it in His perfection according to His will. So when He says something is going to happen, it is because it is a certainty. It has already happened in the future. As mortal time travelers, we can only travel forward through time, at normal speed, and are subject to the created laws of the created natural world. God transcends all. He is not subject to time. He created time. He is not subject to space. He created it as well. He also created their relationship that Einstein referred to as, “space time.” Having perfect, complete, knowledge of the end of the world before He ever created it is one thing, but to imagine that God has that same perfect complete knowledge of every minute instance, in every individual life, and every particle floating on the wind, and their interconnected, relationships, causes and consequences from the dawn of time to the end of it, is just beyond us. To us it looks like chaos, but it is divine order. How can I see the effects of an individual life cut short today, 400 years from now? I can’t. God in His sovereignty has it all under control.
God’s word, is what upholds all creation. He spoke that creation into existence by His word. He spoke to the prophets. He calls the Bible His word. It is His mind for us to know Him. Jesus is called the Word made flesh. There is an interconnected relationship between God and the certain reality of His word. He speaks things into existence. Just read Genesis for all of the, “He said, and there was” statements. Consider that God in His perfect foreknowledge of our futures tells a chosen man, “Thus sayeth the Lord” and then that man relays God’s word to the people, for it to be known to them, according to His purposes. It is amazing, and since we know God is good, we can trust in Him.
Prophets are not the normative. In the Bible there were big gaps in time between prophets. There were not a bunch of true prophets operating all simultaneously. We don’t read that. We know there were many false prophets working simultaneously. We also know that they would work directly against God’s true and chosen prophets. There is even a test for prophets in Deuteronomy 13 along with a punishment for false prophets.
Prophets weren’t prognosticating future events. They were exceptions to the rule. They were relaying what God had told them of the reality of things He had determined in the future. To the people it looked like telling the future, but remember my analogy of the movie. When they relayed the word of God it was specific and exact. Events played out just like they were revealed. Not like people claiming to be modern prophets, like Joseph Smith or Muhammad. Their prophecies are riddled with inaccuracies. Most of their prophecies failed to happen at all. Their prophecies were used for their own licentious purposes more often than not. We see that in so called modern day, “prophets” all the time. We can all remember the time televangelist Oral Roberts claimed that god told him if he didn’t raise 8 million dollars He (God) was going to, “call him home.” Then there is Beth Moore who claims that God told her to write down what He is telling her and then for her to speak it as often as she is able. You can see that false prophets cause all kinds of trouble, from starting new religions, spreading a false gospel like the prosperity gospel, to claiming extra-biblical personal revelation, which is the bread and butter of a false prophet.
Have you ever wondered why people claiming to be prophets now don’t stand up to the record of Old testament prophets, and why they don’t have the accuracy of a person speaking the reality of the word of God? There is a very good reason as to why they aren’t true prophets. That reason is Jesus is the culmination of Prophecy and the Prophet above all prophets.
When He finally entered into His creation, at the advent of His incarnation, He exemplified the perfect execution of the office of Prophet. He fulfilled it. The Word of God, who is God, the Word that became flesh, God of all creation, came into His creation and spoke His words to His creatures. There were people at the time who hated Him, and people who left their lives to follow Him, but they were all astonished who listened to Him. Why is that? The scripture says it is because He spoke as one who had authority. Think about that. You go to the synagogue or temple and listen to the scribes and pharisees teachings. Almost all of them disagree with each other on various topics. It makes you wonder who is right? What should I believe? Then, comes this man Jesus who speaks as if He is explaining His own words He spoke to you earlier. He doesn’t have to consider what the scriptures could mean. He doesn’t have to wonder at the intent of the author. He is the author. He knows what He was saying and what He wanted to communicate. As the authority of His very own words, He spoke as a man speaking the words of God. He was the culmination of all the prophets and inaugurated the end of prophecy in the sense of explaining what would happen.
We have the completion of the progressive revelation of scripture in the form of the Bible. The canon of scripture is closed. All of the word of God that He intends for us to have has been given to us and compiled in one volume. All of the papyri, scrolls, and codices, we call scripture have been gathered together in the Bible. When a prophet speaks the word of God now, he speaks what is written in the Bible. There is no more telling of future events, unless it is from the Bible. There are no more new commandments, all are recorded in the Bible. There are no new teachings. There are no new scriptures to add. Everything God had to say to us is in the Bible. The office of prophet is simply the accurate and truthful preaching of the word, from the Bible.